Even in our technological age, people are still the best asset of any business.
Unfortunately, while employers may want the best from those they employ, not all are prepared to give it. And not all companies are willing to invest in their workforce to make sure that happens.
In fact, a study of workers across 142 countries by Gallup found that far from pulling their weight, many employees in organisations worldwide are dead weight that has to be pulled along by others.
According to these findings, just one in eight employees (13%) regarded themselves as being 'engaged' with what they were doing. Most thought of themselves as either 'not engaged' (63%) or, worse still, 'actively disengaged' (24%), making them potentially disruptive influences.
Gallup's figures are echoed by research by the Hay Group into the attitudes of Fortune 500 companies employees, which concludes that at any one time around 17,600 people in each of these large companies is 'disconnected' from their work. This is suggestive of a potentially staggering degree of under-performance (disengaged workers don't work as hard as the engaged), with massive implications not just for each individual business, but whole economies.
So what's to be done?
Amazon has recently shown us one way, with the company's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, launching a 'Pay to Quit' initiative. This sees the company's employees being offered money each year - up to $5,000 - if they leave the company. The idea is to 'bribe' the demotivated out of the company, while simultaneously reinforcing the bond with Amazon among those who choose to stay.
But while I can see where Bezos is coming from, is Amazon's approach the right one? Would it work on a wider scale? Maybe it would.
However, for me this raises a big question, which is, at what point does a company stop taking responsibility for engaging - and engaging with - its own employees?
Just declaring 'it's our way or the highway' is a reactive approach that smacks of arrogance. It also suggests that recruiters aren't doing their job of finding the 'best fit' people for the business in the first place. Or that the ones who lack engagement are actually managers who have no interest in developing their team, and so create the circumstances in which employees are more likely to leave.
I don't believe people choose to become disengaged, or that it happens overnight. In my experience employees become disengaged over time, through poor standards, broken promises, incompetent managers, feeling utilised instead of valued and not seeing any long term prospect of things getting better.
Frustration and disappointment are not people's preferred emotions, so they become disengaged as a way of dealing with them. I see high disengagement and low productivity figures as a symptom of the failure of organisational leadership.
Today employees want more from life that just a job, or a pay cheque at the end of the month. Meaning, purpose and the opportunity to grow - personally and professionally - are no longer optional add-ons.
Unless organisations reinvent the model for success so that it includes staff engagement, they can end up with a company filled only with 'people like us', and while there may be something to be said for this, it does conjure up the prospect of dull organisations, filled with sheep (or chickens as I describe them in my book Corporate Escape: the Rise of the New Entrepreneur ) rather than leaders (or eagles).
I'm sure Bezos' initiative will flush out many demotivated 'non-Amazonians', though probably not those who don't want to identify themselves to potential future employers as one of those who couldn't hack it at Amazon. They will stay rather than go.
And will all those who do leave be the ones who the company wants to shed, or will there be real talent amongst them that Amazon should be looking to retain, but is failing to do so?
The latter I hope, because I believe talented individuals need to look outside the corporate organisation if they want to succeed short and long term. These are quality professionals who will be better off in every way outside the corporate walls, who have 'outgrown' the organisation they are working for and have reached the point where they want and need to do their own thing.
That's why I see a Pay to Quit Initiative as an opportunity for reinvention by going into business for yourself. And if it's already happening at Amazon, there's every chance it will spread to other organisations too. It's always easier to follow that to led.
What is clear to me is that the world of work has changed radically, but our practices haven't. It's this gap between what's on offer and what is desired that is widening by the day, creating greater disengagement and an unhappier society, as our hearts and souls are left behind, far removed from who we are and what we do.
So, if you aren't fulfilled where you are, don't make the mistake of automatically re-seeking the comfort and reassurance of the corporate world, instead start taking responsibility for your own satisfaction. If you have the slightest entrepreneurial itch, be prepared to scratch it ... plan your escape, sharpen your entrepreneurial instincts, and take the leap!
If you aren't happy in your current job, what would need to happen for you to decide to strike out on your own? When would you know that enough is enough?